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Changing lives

November 25, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Syeed Masom kept refilling my bowl with delicious scoops of thick, creamy yogurt that he makes and sells in a Kabul bazaar. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

I have been back on U.S. soil for a few days now, preparing myself to tell the stories of the many people that I met during my journey through Pakistan and Afghanistan.

People have been asking me a lot of questions about the trip that I took, but the one that sticks out most for me is possibly the most obvious one: "Did this trip change your life?"

In many ways, it did. It was humbling to see firsthand the resilience of the people in these countries who have been living in poverty for their entire lives. When you meet them, you wouldn't guess that they were living in want. They find ways to make do with what little they have, and accept life on its terms.

This isn't to say that they don't want change. In many cases, they might not have seen any viable alternatives. But they leap at the chance to lift their living standards by working with Mercy Corps on projects like growing fruits and nuts or raising poultry. Their dreams are simple — clothes for their children, more food for their tables — and they are proud when they see these aspirations realized.

I was also struck by how many Afghans and Pakistanis were willing to share their precious resources — food, tea, time — with an unknown visitor. I think of Syeed Masom, who invited us into his home in Kabul and quickly placed bowls of thick, creamy yogurt in front of me and Miguel. Masom earns about 2000 Afghanis, or $38, a day selling this yogurt in the local bazaar. Even though each ladle he spooned out for us meant less income for him, by the time we were merely a third of the way through our bowls, he filled them to the brim once more.

I'd like to think that I already appreciated what I had and was wiling to give even when I had very little. But meeting the gracious people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who live out these ideals every day, made me realize how much I still have to learn.

Most of all, my life has been changed simply due to the fact that my worldview has been expanded greatly. I hadn't left North America since a high-school trip to Scotland. So I feel fortunate to be among the few who've visited a part of the world that's undergoing such intense political strain and conflict, not to mention one recovering from natural disasters. I was able to see with my own eyes the devastation of last month's earthquake in Pakistan, as well as the first sprouts of a field of pistachio trees that will help a farmer in Afghanistan support his family for years to come.

So yes, hearing their stories and seeing their lives up close have left an indelible mark on me. I can only hope that I have been able to convey some sense of that in this journal, and in future stories on the site. I thank the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan for allowing Miguel and me into their homes — and I thank you for taking the time to read about this journey as it unfolded.